Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rambling Thoughts on Advaita Vedanta, Resurrection, Transfiguration, Materialization, Cosmology, Infinity, Eternity, End-Times and Other Stuff

[I have recently engaged in email correspondence with a Trappist monk. The dialogue began with my response to his sharing an insight about the difference between “resurrection” and “transfiguration”. Resurrection involves a process whereby a physical body that has died comes back to physical life. Transfiguration involves a process whereby a physical body totally transforms into a form on a higher level of energy frequency that is no longer physical as we know it. Transfigured beings have the ability to “materialize” in the physical world and interact on the physical level, although they ultimately are not subject to physical laws, as this appearance is only a “materialization”, and they remain beyond the laws of physicality as we know them. His insight was contrary to the general Christian view that after Jesus’ physical death, his corpse went through a physical resurrection and after that physical resurrection, it went through a transfiguration. His insight was that there was no physical resurrection, but rather that the corpse transfigured without the intermediate step of a physical resurrection, that what witnesses described as a physical resurrection was rather a materialization of the already transfigured body. He therefore concluded that the holiday of Easter should not focus on resurrection, but rather on transfiguration and materialization. Following are revised excerpts from my dialogue with him that I would like to share on this blog].

I bring to this discussion the perspective of a Jewish yogi. I won’t bother you with the details of my background, but rather refer you to my website for more information along those lines if you are interested. I am, however, attaching a file, “Nice Jewish Boy Meets Rabbi Jesus” [available on this blog in the “Articles” section]

Your presentation evokes many thoughts on the subject. One strain of traditional Jewish thought is that upon the coming of Messiah, all of the dead corpses existing (or at least the Jewish corpses) will literally become regenerated and reanimated, to live out their lives again in the Messianic Age. This is more akin to the Lazarus process of a dead corpse being brought back to life, than a transfiguration as you describe. But then there is the Talmudic take on Enoch (which I imagine you are familiar with, but let me know if you are not). It is said that Enoch did not die a normal physical death, but rather literally bodily ascended to heaven, similar to the traditional story of Jesus’ ascension and Mother Mary’s Assumption. I always questioned these versions, as you have, due to what you call the “old spatial cosmology”. After all, when we are talking about heaven, we are talking about a different dimension than common earthly existence. How could an earthly physical body move into a dimension that is not earthly without somehow substantially transforming? I agree that the examples of Enoch and Jesus were illustrations of a total transformation of the physical body to something not physical at all, what you call “transfiguration”.

In the yoga traditions of India, these concepts are generally accepted, although the terminology is different. One strain of yoga refers to spiritual development ultimately leading to the transformation of the earthly physical body into a “Divine Body”. As far as I can tell, this is the same process as what you call “transfiguration”. Strains of yoga also refer to beings that exist in dimensions beyond our physical world who nevertheless can appear to materialize in this dimension for the sake of guiding us mere mortals, as you describe about Jesus.

There are also strains of yoga that maintain that the soul of a true master can leave a physical body and come back to it, or come back to another physical body, reanimating a newly deceased body.

So these are all variations on resurrection and transfiguration as found in the yoga tradition of India.

I also wonder about a possible conception that Jesus was an incarnation from the start, that he chose to incarnate or “materialize” as the infant Jesus. From this perspective, what you call a transfiguration upon his death was just a “dematerialization” after his work was done, at least for the time being, in an apparent physical materialized body. The physical death of a mortal body was just an “apparent” physical death from this perspective, as he basically was immortal all along. Just some more food for thought.

As for me personally, I’m not even attempting to strive for a Divine Body. I’m merely working on being able to consciously exit the body at the time of death. If I’m drawn back to earthly existence another time, I’ll have another opportunity to keep on developing spiritually (I believe in reincarnation, so that is my perspective). I may be drawn back involuntarily, due to lingering karma, or voluntarily, impelled by an urge to serve, similar to the Bodhisattva concept in Buddhism. So I am hopeful of reaching a level of spiritual development where I am able to consciously exit and consciously enter again, whether to this dimension or some other, as I am so called or moved to do.

Well, that’s it for me now. I welcome your thoughts.

* * *

It is the weekend, so it is a good time for me to continue with this dialogue. I am so happy you mentioned Ramana Maharshi, as I have had an affinity for him for many years. When I went to India a few years ago, I made a point to visit his ashram, where I stayed for several days. It was one of the highlights of my trip. I am in close affinity with his teachings of Advaita Vedanta, and I basically consider myself a Vedantist. I will provide you with my perspective on the general gist of things you have said, which perspective I believe is in keeping with the teachings of Advaita Vedanta.

From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, your use of the word “permanent” is a little too loose, because there is only one True Reality that is permanent, and that is what is called Brahman, Non-dual Reality without a second. This concept is consistent with the Buddhist concept of Shunyata, and the Kabalist concept of Ein/Ein Soph (Ein = Nothingness, Ein Soph = the paradoxical state of nothingness/everythingness, world without end). Although the Buddhists speak of The Void or Emptiness, they have clarified that these terms are really referring to the same type of non-dual reality referred to by the Vedantists. It is the dimension of the impersonal, the unmanifest, the absolute, of pure potentiality that is the underlying substratum and origination of all that exists in the dimension of the personal, the manifest, the relative, the actual, what Paul Tillich has referred to as the “Ground” of existence. So “emptiness” is actually brim full of potentiality, but because it is in a state of unmanifest potentiality, it is called “emptiness”. This is the perspective of what is also called “monism”, that there is no real distinction between God and God’s creation, just as there is no real distinction between the ocean and its waves. Traditional monotheists usually make a distinction between God and God’s creation, between the waves and the ocean. But where exactly does the wave begin as distinct from the ocean? However, even from the monotheist point of view, God is all that is permanent, while everything in God’s creation is impermanent. There can be nothing that is permanent that is separate from God in any fashion.

So I guess I have some issue with you saying that Jesus and Mary “permanently” transfigured. From my perspective, nothing that can be identified as separate and distinct in any fashion is permanent. They may have risen to a higher dimension never to return to the earthly dimension in the manner in which they previously existed. So in that sense, I guess you can say they “permanently” transfigured, but that does not mean that their new state in which you can still distinguish Jesus from Mary in any way is permanent.

The monistic definition of God that I have come up with, encompassing the totality of creation and beyond is, “God is everything that exists, both known and unknown, and all activity and inactivity related to everything that exists”. The “inactivity” refers to what lies beyond creation in the non-dual Reality. So with this definition in mind, certainly everyone and everything at every level of perceived existence is already and has always been a part of the body of God, and totally dependent on God for its perceived existence, just as waves are totally dependent upon the ocean for their existence. The ocean can exist without waves, but waves cannot exist without the ocean, because their entire substance is the substance of the ocean. No ocean, no waves. No God, no us. So it all starts to become problematic from this perspective when we start talking about resurrection and transfiguration and the distinction between the two terms. Those distinctions only have any meaning in our grappling with semantic exercises in the state of the impermanent relative. If everything already is God or a part of the body of God, then what is being resurrected, what is being transfigured? Waves come, waves go, but it is all within the context of their always being a part of the ocean.

So getting back to the world of seeming separation and impermanence, we make all of these distinctions. Yes, it is possible for those rare beings that have what we call a physical, mortal body of flesh and bones to spiritually transform their bodies while still alive (or, perhaps more accurately, to have their bodies transformed by an act of Grace) into “divine” or “spiritual” bodies that are no longer of the substance of mortal physical bodies. But that alone does not mean that they cease all sense of separative existence, but rather that their perceived separative existence has attained a higher level of functioning in a dimension beyond physicality but still with some separative identity. The ocean manifests many waves in many different dimensions in addition to what we call the physical dimension. And yes, it is possible for other beings that their mortal physical bodies will die and decay, but their souls will leave those bodies upon death and enter into another dimension. How different is their other-worldly existence from those whose bodies were transformed before they died is problematic.

From the yoga point of view, those souls who have unfinished business on the earthly plane will reincarnate. Perhaps others that have unfinished business will enter a separative existence in another, non-earthly dimension. There is no end to the dimensions of existence in the phenomenal cosmos besides earthly existence. It is hard for me to accept the notion that you seem to express, like many monotheists, that upon physical earthly death, no souls ever return to earth, but rather either earn the merit of enjoying a continued separative existence in some pleasant celestial realm, or the demerit of suffering in some horrible lower realm for all of eternity without any continuing evolution and opportunity for further spiritual development in those other dimensions. For me, the universe is all about constant, ongoing evolution on every conceivable and inconceivable level, until it all dissolves back into total nothingness.

My personal belief is that beings like Jesus Christ, Ramana Maharshi and others continue to exist in other-worldly dimensions that can access our worldly dimension to continue to provide guidance and inspiration to us. (Of course, Ramana Maharshi died a physical death, and his body was buried, and nobody claims that his body was resurrected or transfigured, but rather that it remains buried. However, his followers do claim that his soul was totally liberated upon his death, so that it no longer had to return to an earthly existence. Actually, many would claim that his soul entered his body already totally liberated, and that he lived a bodily existence and played out the drama of his early life of spiritual struggle and searching by pure Grace just for the sake of providing guidance and inspiration for others on the physical plane. Others go even further and claim that he was an Avatar, an incarnation of Shiva, one expression of the unlimited God appearing in apparent physical earthly form for the sake of mankind). So when people report visions of such beings, they are not mere imaginings, but true visitations and revelations of these beings dedicated to continuing to provide guidance. Or put in another way, it is possible for beings in our worldly existence who have spiritual sensitivities to access the dimension of these beings in order to be provided guidance and inspiration. It can also work the other way, that the beings from another dimension can “tone down their frequency” and appear in our earthly dimension to those here with spiritual sensitivity.

As far as the end-time goes, I am not a believer in the various happily-ever-after scenarios as is commonly presented by Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologies. The Vedantic/Hindu conception of ages and cycles of creation and dissolution makes more “sense” to me. Instead of one “big bang”, I call it the “bang-bang” theory. Creation followed by dissolution, over and over again. I believe that major shifts do occur, and that is what the end-time notions are misinterpreting, major shifts individually and collectively. But not any be-all-and-end-all scenario. From the kabalistic conception, which to me is consistent with the Vedic conception, the process of creation involves eternity and infinity contracting in their respective dimensions to allow for time and space and creation as we know it, flowing out of a “big bang” that is impelled out of that contraction. Consistent with this description, our scientists tell us that this universe as we know it is expanding from this “big bang” that they have posited. My sense is that it will continue to expand back to the pre-creation phase of eternity and infinity on all dimensions, allowing for nothing else at all to exist except eternity and infinity (perhaps this is the same as a cosmos composed solely of black holes and dark matter). And then there will be another dimensional contraction to allow for another round of creation. I believe that the scientific model also provides for the expansion to eventually stop and be followed by a contraction. So when there is the end of time, there will also be the end of space, and there will be nobody around in any separative sense of any separative existence to be left to experience anything. Not necessarily something to look forward to, unless you just want to exit out of this worldly existence at all costs.

However, on an individual level, timelessness and spacelessness, eternity and infinity, continue to paradoxically exist in another dimension while we simultaneously have a sense of mundane separate existence in the dimensions of time and space. Spiritual exercises, such as meditation, provide us a process whereby we can temporarily access eternity and infinity through connecting with the Fifth Dimension of pure consciousness, beyond time and space. You could say that those who spiritually advance to another dimension have even more easy and ready access to eternity and infinity, to pure consciousness, but nothing separate can exist in pure, unadulterated eternity and infinity. That is why at some places, the Torah states that nobody can see the face of God and live/exist, because it is only possible to encounter the face of God at that level through abandonment of any sense of separation. This is what Kabala refers to as bittul or yichud, merging, union with the Absolute, what yoga calls nirvikalpa samadhi. However, at other places, the Torah paradoxically refers to Moses as having seen God face-to-face. This is an encounter with God at the highest level possible while still retaining a state of separative self, what Kabala refers to as devekut, clinging, cleaving to God, what yoga calls savikalpa samadhi. Yoga even posits that highly advanced spiritual beings can remain connected with infinity and eternity while still appearing and functioning to us in the physical world with what is termed a “vestigial” body. These beings have no sense of egoic separation at all, yet paradoxically appear to function as though they are aware of distinctions. As one such master put it, “I do not feel full or fulfilled. I am lost in the Fullness.”

To be honest with you, it does not matter much to me how we define, distinguish and conceptualize all of these processes. There are all kinds of levels of concentrations and magnifications of divinity, but then again, what is not God if God is Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnipotent?

I leave you for now with this:

I am Hashem and there is no other: other than Me there is no God; I will gird you, though you did not know Me, in order that those from east and west would know that there is nothing besides Me; I am Hashem, and there is no other. [I am the One] Who forms light and creates darkness; Who makes peace and creates evil; I am Hashem, Maker of all these.

Isaiah 45:5 – 45:7 (Stone Artscroll Tanach translation)

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Quote of the Week 381 - Heaven

Heaven is all round,

Translated to sound.

--Michael Hedges



Announcing Publication of New Book, DIMENSIONS: Navigation the Spiritual Spectrum

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book, DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum, now available at Amazon, in paperback print and Kindle versions. It is easily found by searching my name, or by searching the full title and subtitle. You can also click on the image of the book in the right hand column of this blog.

What a great way to start the New Year, cozying up to a fire, real or imagined, and reading a new spiritually inspiring book, sure to become a classic!

DIMENSIONS: Navigating the Spiritual Spectrum

Grounded in the traditions of Torah and Veda, Steven J. Gold takes us on an oceanic tour of the depth and breadth of spiritual consciousness. Sharing personal stories and insights into various traditional scriptures as examples, he urges us to adopt a spiritual worldview, to “ponder infinity, awake and arise,” to “find your inspiration and follow it.”

“The chapters…are records of what happens when Steve’s right mind, and heart, are given full freedom to wander where they wish. As discoveries and correlations are made, his well-trained left mind and sharp wit give his observations shape and form…” – Brother Shankara, Resident Minister, Vedanta Center of Atlanta

“Universal Ice Cream: Dive deep into Steve’s wonderful book to help find your favorite flavor on the Spiritual Spectrum.” – Rabbi Mitch Cohen, Spiritual Leader, Congregation Shalom B’Harim, Dahlonega, GA

“Steven J. Gold’s Dimensions is an exploration of spirituality from the inside out. If you are looking for a guide through the pathless land of truth, read this book.” – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of The World Wisdom Bible

Interfaith/Inter-Spiritual Contemplative Groups

Please check out the following, which is an ongoing activity that may be of interest: